Re: Self-Archiving JSTOR OCR'd Retrospective Publications

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 1 Jan 2004 22:00:38 +0000

On Wed, 31 Dec 2003, [identity deleted] wrote:

> In your many contributions about open-access publishing, many
> references are made to the annual publication of 2.5 million scientific
> articles, but what is happening to the contents of hard-copy journals
> of the past?

You are I assume referring to the retrospective (or "legacy") contents
of the 24,000 journals in which the 2.5 million articles appear? Author
self-archiving can provide open access to the living-author portion
of that literature. If universities and other research institutions
-- as a component in their open-access provision policy for their own
research output -- extend their self-archiving to their own legacy contents
too, that will cover still more of the legacy literature. But the rest
will require a generic scan/OCR initiative (like JSTOR). If it is left to be
done by the journals themselves, or an entity (like JSTOR) contracted by
them, then those contents are probably doomed to sit behind toll-access
barriers instead of being open-access. It would be far better if another
entity could pick up the tab for the scanning and OCR, and then make
the contents open-access.

If individual authors did their own bit and their institutions filled
in with the rest of their own retrospective output, then it would be easy
to pitch in, consortially (perhaps via SPARC) to cover the cost of the
rest, so that the entire retrospective journal literature could be made
open-access, pari passu with the current and future literature.

> Some are being digitally archived by their publishers [e.g. [deleted]]

Yes, but the output from that will alas be toll-access rather than
open-access! If researchers and their instutions pitched in by providing
just their own legacy literature, a lot more of it could be rendered
open access.

> but what is to happen to the many national journals

Online access to the retrospective contents of any journal (national or
otherwise) that has no retrospective scanning and access-provision agenda
of its own must rely on individual and institutional self-archiving and
either consortial subsidy (for open access) or JSTOR-style investment
(for toll access).

> The publisher of [a number of] national journals has concluded for
> the time being that digital archiving of backfiles is too expensive
> for immediate implementation.

It would be good if national funding councils made it a policy to mandate
open-access provision for all funded research output. This would encourage
researchers and their institutions to self-archive their current research,
with which a natural parallel step will be to self-archive their legacy
research too. The distributed cost, per researcher's current and past
output, is negligible. The outcome will be both access-provision and
open-access provision for a goodly portion of the legacy literature --
and not just for nationally-funded research or research published in
nationally-funded journals, but for all research output.

> As a demonstration project of a cheaper alternative [we have
> retrodigitised the contents of one journal]... The contents would be
> readily accessible 24/7/365 if placed on our local computer intranet or
> made available on the university's Web site. Copyright restrictions
> currently prevent us from making this "quick and dirty" solution
> available.

An admirable project -- though it would obviously be far more useful it
it were accessible not only to your university (and still better if it
were accessible toll-free, i.e., open access)!

> [The cost for all this is low] yet not one national funding agency
> has been able to identify a program providing a source of funds for
> our work.

There is a kind of grim logic in that: If national funding agencies
(in any country) were well-informed about the causal connection between
research access and research impact, they would adopt a policy of
open-access provision for all current and future research output. A
natural extension of that policy would be open-access provision for
retrospective content -- but not on a journal by journal basis (there is
no common interest there) but on a research institution by institution
basis. If a policy of that scale were in place, funding the remaining bits
(of specific national journal content) that got away would be much lower,
much broader-based (not just one journal but all of them) and much more
readily justifiable (as a component in a coherent and systematic whole).

But no such national open-access provision policy exists yet, so the
prospect of paying for access-provision to the retrospective contents of
just one national journal is not very compelling to government agencies.

I would suggest the same to you: Don't think in terms of national
journals. Think in terms of current and retrospective national research
output. That way you'll get all that, plus the journal contents too!

> We hope to approach [national and international research- and
> archive-supporting agencies] to see if they are interested in funding a
> major archiving project for the backfiles of national journals. I would
> be interested in your comments on the points I have made.

If I were advising the funders of such a proposal I would suggest it was a
worthy of funding, but only as the third component (3) in a much larger and
more important and urgent project, the first two components of which are
(1) open-access provision to all current national research output and (2)
open-access provision to all retrospective institutional research output.

(1) has no funding implications, just policy implications. (2) will require
some funding. Then (3) could be the retrodigitisation of any retrospective
national journal content that had not already been covered by (1) and (2).
(If the archiving is OAI-compliant, it will be very easy to check exactly
what is still missing, journal by journal, once (1) and (2) have been

But, in the scale or priorities, I would have to assign a far lower
priority to just (3) alone, simply because it is so much less urgent
and important than (1) and (2), as well as a logical and practical subset
of them.

Prior threads on this topic:

    "Self-Archiving JSTOR OCR'd Retrospective Publications"

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist Open Access Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
        To join the Forum:
        Post discussion to:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Thu Jan 01 2004 - 22:00:38 GMT

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